404: Information Missing From Your Daily News
Summaries of under-reported news, short updates on previous Monitor stories
"Operation Urban Warrior" just concluded in the San Francisco Bay Area. Although the $4.5 million exercise involving 6,000 troops was unprecedented in its scope, coverage outside of California was spotty; most major newspapers mentioned it only briefly in a photo caption or in a summary news short. But the sparse national press attention was less disturbing than the media's uncritical view of the event.
The mission's goal was to practice fighting "for urban battle spaces of the 21st century." The military's script opened with humanitarian assistance to a friendly country hit by an earthquake, but ends with "simulated mid-intensity combat" against armed protesters. As a subplot, there was also a search for terrorists with a simulated "biological weapon of mass destruction."
Newspapers parroted the military's press releases. The exercises were supposed to "test humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and urban combat readiness in a 21st century coastal environment" (New York Times) or "practice humanitarian, peacekeeping and disaster relief missions ... to fight enemies in urban, seaside environments in foreign countries" (San Francisco Chronicle). In the longest single article on the events, the Washington Post emerged as the Pentagon's loudest cheerleader:
Suppose the Marines find themselves in one block of a city in which they are expected to be humanitarians, feeding people and restoring services. In the second block, their assignment is to be the sheriff, separating warring gangs. In the third block, they come under attack... That's the "three-block war." Perform all three tasks. Know how to switch from handing out candy bars to being warriors to being peacekeepers. Figure out who is the enemy and who isn't. In a city packed with noncombatants. Speaking a foreign language. While the world watches, live, on CNN.
The Pentagon made much of that foreign country angle, raising the spectre of 1993 Somalia, when 18 members of the elite U.S. Army Rangers died in street-fighting (while killing more than 500, mostly civilian, Somalis). In these war games, some Urban Warriors dressed in Arabic garb as they pretended to be aggressive protesters, and one setup was constructed to resemble a Korean village. But a closer look shows that the exercise was designed to prepare for fighting in places like San Francisco instead of Mogadishu.
In the Operation Urban Warrior scenario there was no invasion of a hostile village or Third World city by U.S. combat troops; instead, the scene was set in a modern coastal city which remained mostly under control by local authorities. Stealthy troops entered via underground utility corridors and subways, or glided onto skyscrapers. (Some of the exercise took place in the "concrete canyons of downtown San Francisco.") Once in the streets, they experimented with high-tech weapons, such as robotic cannons that can be parked in a downtown intersection and lob shells by remote-control from miles away -- hardly a gizmo that would survive long in a truly hostile situation.
The operation was also scripted to make troops dependent on police for arrests once the uruly mobs of protesters were subdued by questionable military weapons, such as potentially-blinding "dazzle" lasers (which we reported in an August Monitor article, may violate international weapons treaties). Perhaps more alarming, the troops were training police in the same techniques. According to a military press release, "following the mock skirmishes, the teams will instruct local police, fire and emergency personnel on incidents involving those weapons."
Although the mainstream press ignored the worrisome message of the army practicing to quell civil disobedience, kudos to the San Francisco Bay Guardian for its "One nation under guard" article. But even that feature was sadly incomplete about the chilling history behind the operation.
Operation Urban Warrior sprouted from election-year posturing by the 1996 Republican Congress. Jammed into the fiscal 1997 defense authorization bill were literally hundreds of directives meant to needle the Clinton administration. One gave the president two weeks to certify that the U.S. can intercept a ballistic missile. It was an impossible demand -- neither presidents Reagan nor Bush could have made such a guarantee -- but candidate Bob Dole had a campaign theme that Clinton was squishy on national defense. Without irony, another of the 1996 directives lashed out at the CIA for estimating that no nation would be able to launch a ballistic missle attack until about the year 2010 (Newt's House of Representatives demanded a new report). All of these deadlines, by the way, were automatically extended for three months if Dole won the election.
The 1996 Congress also required a "broad quadrennial review ... [of] the defense program of the United States" by a new 9-member "National Defense Panel." Thus was born the NDP, with five retired military officers and six members involved with defense contracts -- note the overlap between the two categories.
The NDP's review was a shock to some military old-timers. It called for more base closures (over half the military budget was hen spent on housing or support) and called obsolete the "fighting two simultaneous wars" premise that was de rigueur during the Bush years. But the generals were probably happy to learn that the NDP called for spending even more $$ by changing the mission to protect the U.S. against terrorism by either foreign or home-grown extremists.
That premise of domestic terrorism meshed nicely with other demands in the 1996 defense bill. The GOP Congress required Clinton to report on "the capabilities of the federal government to prevent and respond to terrorist incidents involving weapons of mass destruction" and to describe how he would stop "the use or potential use of biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction within the United States." It also neatly tied in with still another promise that election year for about $50 million for local police agencies to learn how to handle terrorism.
Operation Urban Warrior shows that the military has accepted the costly recommendations by the NDP, and at the same time, Clinton and the Pentagon have shown far more interest in extending emergency powers than many find comfortable.
In January 1999, the Pentagon asked for power to appoint a military commander for the U.S. -- an unprecedented office that would direct emergency operations in case of terrorist attack. Critics say that this another example of creeping military involvement with civilian life, tragically shown in the death of Esequiel Hernandez Jr., a U.S. citizen shot by a soldier in the War On Drugs. (Read MONITOR feature.) But former Senator Sam Nunn, an expert on national security issues, told The New York Times that precedent was really set in the Reagan years, when Congress waived the rights of posse comitatus (restricting the ability of soldiers to arrest or detain civilians) in cases of nuclear terrorism. Nunn also told The Times that a later provision authorized military control in the event of chemical and germ attacks.
Defense Secretary Cohen has already approved a "Joint Task Force for Civil Support," whose commander would develop ways for the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force to help in case of a domestic crisis, according to a story in The Times. Clinton told The Times that the military's role was "the last big kind of organizational piece" in strengthening the nation's defenses against new kinds of terrorism. Clinton's decision on the new commander position is expected sometime this summer. (March 18, 1999)
Bye Bye Blackbirds Examples abound of unexpected results that happen when people meddle with nature, but the saga of the blackbirds of Loudoun County, Virginia, deserves some sort of award for human folly.
The story about this suburban region of Washington D.C. appeared in the January 29 Washington Post. Residents of the Colonnade townhouse subdivision were unhappy that a flock of 224,000 blackbirds -- really starlings, cowbirds and grackles -- were roosting in nearby trees. An ammonia-like smell hung in the air, and droppings from the birds ate through the paint of cars. To solve the problem, developer Lerner Enterprises razed the 20 acres of nearby cedar trees where the birds lived.
Lerner official Eric Holland told the Post that cutting down the forest was a better solution than killing 224,000 birds. "I didn't want [a headline] to be 'Developer Sprays Aerial Agent Orange,'" Holland said.
But 224,000 birds just don't disappear on command. Once their woods were gone, they took up residence in the nearby subdivision of Countryside. Countryside residents then began complaining about the birds -- as well as the cutting of the trees, which blocked their view of a shopping mall being built nearby. "You don't just whack the trees for your convenience and send the birds to the neighbors," a resident of Countryside told the Post. "What are we supposed to do? Chop down our trees to make them go somewhere else?" Back in Colonnade, however, all was peaceful and dropping-free. "As far as I'm concerned, it's not my problem anymore, it's somebody else's," a resident said.
The Post noted that the massive flock was created by the fast-growing Washington suburbs, which concentrates the birds into smaller and smaller clumps of woods as their normal habitat becomes townhouse subdivisions and shopping malls.
The Post also noted that the birds are only a temporary annoyance -- that they migrate north in March. (March 21, 1999)
The Dictator's and his Friends The arrest of former Chilean dicator Augusto Pinochet last fall was big news in most of the world, but in U.S. newspapers it quickly disappeared into the "News of the World Summary" dumping ground. As a result, many important aspects of the story are mostly unknown to Americans, such as Kissinger's encouragement of Chile's brutal repression, reported elsewhere in this issue.
A recent example of a story that was almost entirely ignored in the U.S. explained that a top Vatican official -- a Cardinal said to be a leading candidate for the papacy -- asked England to release Pinochet, even though he may soon face trial for crimes against humanity. Only the Boston Globe ran the full Associated Press story on this international controversy.
Yet behind Pinochet's arrest in October lurked an interesting question: What was the former dictator doing in London at the time of his arrest? Most articles passed over this detail, mentioning only that the Chilean senator-for-life was the guest of a British weapons company and was travelling under an official passport from Chile. But a team of reporters for the London Independent deserve credit for explaining the important details.
Just before he handed over his office to the first democratically-elected president in 1990, Pinochet created for himself an unusual position as exclusive arms merchant for their entire nation. In this role he was on a buying spree when in London, with several hundred pages of shopping list including exotic missles, high-tech decoy systems to defend battleships from missles, state- of- the- art radar, and every dictator's standby, crowd control devices. The budget for that trip alone was estimated at $130 million.
Cronies and relatives of the 83 year-old Pinochet also profited from the deals. Substantial commissions for some of these multi-million dollar contacts were paid to people "close to Pinochet," the Independent learned. Pinochet, one of the richest men on the continent, infamously used his power as dictator to give state-owned companies and land to friends and family.
Left unanswered were questions of why Pinochet wanted such pricey toys for his pals in the Chiliean army and navy. As reported in the Monitor earlier, the shadow of Pinochet looms over the upcoming Dec. 11, 1999 presidential elections. Pressure is building within Chile to investigate the extent of his personal empire as well as demand an accounting for the 3,190 human rights crimes committed under his regime, but the powerful right-wing politicians and military leaders still refuse to concede that anything amiss happened in Pinochet's 1973-1990 dictatorship. With its cautious democracy operating under still a constitution inherited from the junta, fears lurk that the right-wing might decide that the best way to avoid answering these embarassing questions might be another coup. (March 11, 1999)
Calvi Autopsy #4 As we reported in December, the body of Roberto Calvi was about to be exhumed for the fourth time as investigators sought evidence that might link the Mafia to his death. Calvi, you might recall, was found hanging under a London bridge in 1982 after it was discovered that he had used his Italian bank to secretly help both the Vatican and CIA funnel money to guerilla and anti-communist groups. Italian authorities believe he was executed by La Cosa Nostra because he was funding those covert operations with $1.3 billion skimmed from mob drug money. (For more details, read the December 404 report, which offers links to earlier Monitor items about Europe's greatest postwar scandal.)
Although the final autopsy report won't be released until later this spring, London newspapers have reported that new evidence suggests that Calvi was murdered elsewhere and his neck later placed in the noose to appear as a suicide. Bruises apparently match a favorite mafia execution method called incaprettati (the "trussed goat"), where the victim's arms and legs are hog-tied to his neck with slipknots and the victim strangles himself.
Calvi's son, Carlo, told the London Sunday Times, "This method is typical of the Sicilian mafia. [London's mob boss, Francesco "Frankie the Strangler" Di Carlo] was notorious for getting rid of people in this way. This confirms that my father did not commit suicide but was murdered on the mafia's orders." Di Carlo is one of the four alleged mafiosi charged with conspiracy to murder Calvi.
Carlo Calvi additionally told The Guardian that forensic scientists have found someone else's DNA on his clothes. "Some findings, using techniques which did not exist in 1982, appear to show that he may have been handled by somebody else, particularly at the moment when the body was weighed down with bricks." Calvi's pockets were filled with more than eleven pounds of bricks plus $10,700 in cash.
His son has long insisted that his father was the fall guy in a conspiracy to fund right-wing groups involving the Vatican, the mafia, secretive fascist societies, and Italy's government at the time. Carlo Calvi told The Guardian that he blames former Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti as ultimately responsible for his father's death. "My father was killed because he was politically isolated. He was trying to restructure the bank... The person who opposed his plan was Andreotti." The ex-prime minister is currently on trial for alleged complicity with the mafia and the murder of a journalist.
As explained in earlier 404 items, auditors found that Calvi, chairman of Banco Ambrosiano, had channelled vast sums to dummy Panamanian corporations that were controlled by the Institute for Religious Works -- better known as the Vatican Bank. Although much of that money was eventually found stashed in other Vatican Bank accounts, Calvi was in big trouble with La Cosa Nostra, who presumably weren't pleased that their money was gone and their banker was about to be quizzed by police.
The day after he was placed under house arrest, Calvi used a forged passport to flee to London, where he apparently asked mob boss Di Carlo for help. That he risked jail to escape the country suggests that Calvi was more nervous about the Vatican Bank than the mafia, however; it was the Vatican Bank's demand for about $230 million that he sought to repay immediately. "For that amount of money, people can kill," Calvi told daughter Anna. (March 8, 1999)
Albion Monitor Issue 59 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor)
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